Harry Harrison, one of the legendary "Good Guys" of New York AM rock and roll radio, then later a member of talk radio's so-called "All Americans," has died. His death was announced on WCBS/101.1 FM, where Harrison ended his career, with a posting on its website which read: "Today we say so long to former American radio personality WCBS-FM and 'Jack' FM DJ Harry Harrison. He has passed away at 89 years old after battling health issues."
Over a 40-year span in New York, Harrison was once as familiar as the first cup of coffee or the drive to work. His "Good Guy" moniker — eventually shared with WMCA personalities Jack Spector, B. Mitchel Reed, Dan Daniel, Joe O'Brien and Dean Anthony — had indeed been earned.
Harrison's style was genial, noncombative and approachable, in sharp contrast to those who would come after, notably Don Imus and Howard Stern. How sharp? Best to recall Harrison's famed sign-offs for that answer: "Stay well, stay happy, stay right here" or "Harry Harrison wishing you all the very best, because that's exactly what you deserve.” And of course, "Every day should be unwrapped like a precious gift.”
Or this: In 1965, he recorded a spoken-record hit called "May You Always," with lines like "may you find a little island of time … to visit that lonely friend on the other side of town," or "may that long and lonely night be brightened by the telephone call you've been waiting for." Unashamedly sentimental, "May You Always" became both holiday staple and Harrison's "Good Guy" validation. In tribute, the station posted a recording of "May You Always" on its website.
Allan Sniffen, who moderates the New York Radio Message Board and his own online station, Rewoundradio.com, said in an interview Tuesday, "He was the everyman who was across from you at the breakfast table, chatting with you every morning."
"He appealed to the best in people as opposed to the worst — which can be talk radio today — and he was the same way off the air. It was never 'I'm the star and you're the listener' but 'I'm one of you and I can relate to you.'"
Harrison was a dominant figure when local radio itself was dominant — when AM stations like WINS, WNBC (now WFAN) and WABC were powerhouses, their hosts were local superstars. What was so unusual about Harrison was that broad appeal. Popular among young listeners and their parents, he cut across age groups and when he shifted to oldies station WCBS in 1980, those who had grown up with him had "aged" along with him, too. While local radio turned into a brawl, Harrison stood apart, and his remaining fans with him.
Born in Chicago, Harrison worked at a pair of Illinois radio stations before joining WMCA in 1959, where he worked the 10 a.m.-1 p.m. shift, and launched a popular feature called "Housewife Hall of Fame" (the winner got a dozen roses). He moved to WABC in 1968, working from 6 to 10 a.m., then to CBS in 1980 where his run finally ended in 2003, telling Newsday it "was the time for me to leave: I can see fine-tuning a radio station, but not making so many changes [away] from what made it a success." His wife, well-known to a generation of listeners as "Pretty Patti," died three months later.
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Harrison is survived by his daughter, also named Patti, and son Patrick, and was predeceased by two other children.